The NCHA looked back through the archives to understand what we could learn, and how we could use this learning to improve hearing care in the UK. What was originally a small in-house research project developed into a more extensive project and we felt it was important to share what we found. The history of hearing care below represents a summary of our findings.
The history of hearing care, as with many other resources we created because of it, is a resource we will update with time. If you have any comments or suggestions, why not contact us.
Before the electronic age people use ear trumpets to help them hear.
Leo Bonn established the National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf. The organisation would become the RNID.
The first wearable bone conduction hearing aid is produced by Sonotone Corporation in the USA.
In the 1940s limitations in telephone technology led to the development of a state-manufactured hearing aid in the UK – the Medresco aid.
Parents set up a Society to improve access to and the quality of education for deaf children. The organisation would become the NDCS.
The NHS was founded. Hearing care was accessible to more people, improving equality of access. But concerns about travel costs were raised in the House of Commons.
The NHS helped reduce inequalities in access to hearing tests but people with hearing loss continued to experience inequalities in access to technology.
38 years before the RNID called for care closer to home, an MP had already raised the issue with Aneurin Bevan.
In its first five years the NHS fitted 401,524 patients with a Medresco hearing aid.
French doctors in Paris stimulate the auditory nerve, signalling a breakthrough that would help invent the modern cochlear implant.
By 1954 catastrophic diseases of the ear had become rare events.
In the UK the State developed a new hearing aid but NHS patients continued to experience inequalities in access – e.g. one hearing aid when they had a hearing loss in both ears.
The Hearing Aid Council is established to regulate non-NHS hearing care through the education, training and regulation of hearing aid dispensers.
By 1976 the NHS was suppling 350,098 hearing aids a year. Yet the UK continued to underinvest in R&D and inequalities in access to technology worsened.
First three patients fitted with bone conduction hearing aid implants in Sweden.
First independent evaluation of cochlear implants published in the USA.
The NHS had made it possible for people without the ability to pay to access hearing care, but inequalities in access continued to exist. Unmet hearing need was a growing public health problem.
In an increasingly consumer driven age the RNID began to receive complaints about NHS hearing aids. A consequent RNID survey in 1982-83 was the first to identify gaps in follow-up care.
FDA in USA approves the first cochlear implant for use in adults. Cochlear implants for children were similarly approved in 1989.
Repeated system failures in NHS audiology have been driven by relying on past activity to predict future need and NHS planners considering hearing loss a low priority.
“Breaking the Sound Barrier” launched with the goal of improving hearing outcomes for older people – including tackling unmet need.
Research starts to challenge barriers to accessing NHS hearing aids, highlighting how people who could pay did not have to see a doctor, but that NHS patients did.
With age of individualism in full swing the RNID launches a fair hearing campaign to put people with hearing loss at the centre of both NHS and non-NHS hearing care.
RNID warns hospitals that if they do not deliver hearing aid services closer to home then service users and the government might not fund NHS hearing care in the future.
The first major epidemiological study on hearing loss prevalence in Great Britain is published.
Research shows that audiologists operating under clinical protocols can safely manage people with hearing loss.Read more
Heads of NHS audiology agree that care closer to home has major benefits for people with hearing loss in terms of access and hearing aid use.
RNID launch a campaign to reduce the number of people with unmet hearing needs by 1 million over five years.
Follow-up care is key in supporting people in using their hearing aids. By May 1999, lack of follow-up care had been a concern for 16 years, with the RNID again calling for care closer to home.
Despite the clinical agreement that follow-up care improves hearing outcomes, by the Millennium, problems with lack of follow-up care had been documented for 18 years.
The Audit Commission reviews NHS audiology and finds that a lack of investment and poor planning by some NHS commissioners means that hearing care is failing service users.
NICE did not initially recommend replacing analogue hearing aids with digital hearing aids, but later accepted digital hearing aids were a proven technology and withdrew its guidance.
The NHS finally addresses the longstanding inequity between public and private hearing care. Modernising Hearing Aid Services (MHAS) is launched.
The RNID call for hearing aid services to be delivered out of hospital and raise concerns about NHS commissioners bundling adult hearing care and ENT.
Research highlights a lack of capacity and outcome measurement in the Scottish hearing service.
World Health Organisation recommends that active ageing strategies should seek to address the hearing needs of the ageing population
Audit Commission publishes two reports on NHS hearing care. It warns that a failure to follow past advice will pose a risk to services in the future. It was right.
Taskforce produces best practice standards for adult audiology. The project is part funded by the Department of Health.
The Scottish Executive invests £14 in modernising NHS hearing services.
The Government recognises British Sign Language as a language in its own right.
Hearing needs of newborns recognised at last. Newborn hearing screening is rolled out across the UK.
Task Force publishes a systematic review on hearing aids showing hearing aids improve adults’ quality of life by reducing psychological, social, and emotional effects of hearing loss.
The Department of Health sets a clear goal that people with hearing loss should be able to access care closer to home - 57 years after the issue was first raised in the House of Commons.
In 2007 waiting lists for NHS audiology broke the two year limit again. This system crisis was foreseeable and could have been avoided with effective commissioning.
The Royal College of Physicians calls for more audiovestibular physicians to be trained and for audiologists to provide diagnostic services in primary care.
The Department of Health reconfirms its commitment to deliver hearing care closer to home.
NHS Improvement programme urges NHS leaders to focus on delivering hearing care outside of acute hospitals and closer to people’s homes.
Another report highlights gaps in follow-up care for people fitted with NHS hearing aids – a persistent challenge first documented in the 1980s.
Gaps in follow-up care. Older people in Scotland say they want more information before and after hearing aid fittings.
The RNID rebrands in early 2011 to Action on Hearing Loss. In its new guise it restates that the hospital model of care was not appropriate for the hearing needs of the ageing population.
Patient and third sector feedback leads to NHS adult hearing services in England being selected as a priority for reform. Choice of out of hospital hearing care becomes a reality for some NHS patients.
Research confirms that the main reason for a delay in access to hearing care is that people with hearing difficulties do not seek help.
The NHS in England advises people to have their hearing tested and treated sooner as part of a healthy ageing strategy?
Another UK-wide report in 2015 identified gaps in follow-up care for people fitted with NHS hearing aids –33 years after they were first reported.
The NHS regulator in England publishes a report on adult hearing services, showing the NHS can improve access, standards and value for money.
The NHS continues to consider adult hearing loss as a low priority. Rather than engaging with providers to make better use of budgets some NHS commissioners begin planning to restrict services.
Healthcare leaders call for action on hearing loss. The NHS in England recognises hearing loss as a major public health challenge for the first time.
Scottish Parliament becomes first in UK to promote the use of British Sign Language (BSL).